Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ich bin hier, I think.

Hello All!

After a 3 month absence, I'm back! This post can only be attributed to one thing: insomnia. So let's finish this up before I actually get sleepy.

Right then, after Senegal, I enjoyed a relaxed summer, which included lazy days at museums, a quick trip to DC, seeing my family, and cheese. Lots of cheese. It also unfortunately included getting my debit card stuck in an ATM the day I got back, cleaning an apartment that had been left as a bio-hazard by the subletters, and an unnecessarily confusing trip to the Library of Congress. But no matter, it certainly made up for the lack of social contact I endured in Matam.

Exactly three weeks after I landed in JFK from Senegal, I found myself standing in the despot of society: Newark, New Jersey. Most Americans find themselves in Newark for two reasons: They were actually in Hoboken and thought it was Newark, or they had to go to the airport. I was the latter. Why you ask? Oh, you didn't ask? Well, pretend you asked. So why you ask? I went to Germany to visit Anne! Yay. I'm poor, I flew Air India! Big boo.

There are two international Indian airlines. Jet Airways, the privately owned company, is fantastic. Big comfortable seats, great food, excellent service, and actually entertaining on-board entertainment. Air India is the government run airline. For those of you who don't know, Air India is also the worst airline on the planet. It sits on par with Crocs in the "attractive shoe department," and Heroine for the "least harmful substance department." Really, it's that terrible. Let me explain...

First of all, despite India running the world with software export and design, Air India has not mastered the art of online check in. And by that, I mean it doesn't exist. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, screaming kids, and senile grandparents. In order to board an Air India flight, one must stand in line behind a dazzling selection of awkward Indian families en route home in order to obtain a boarding pass. In Newark, Air India's check in is located (I kid you not) next to baggage claim carousel number 4, in the basement of the airport. After at least a hundred stifled laughs and ten text messages to various appreciative friends and family, I got my boarding pass and headed further in the lairs of the Newark Airport basement to Air India's security check-in.

My dad always says that "old school" India held its assets in three forms: land, cash, and GOLD. Indians who use Air India are the very definition of "old school" and usually hold every piece of the third form of said assets on their person. In other words, every damn Indian who walks through the Air India security check point has at MINIMUM, 40 pieces of gold jewelry on. Times that by 200 passengers to the power of 3 screaming children, compounding a rate of f-ing tiny hallway, and you get a four hour endeavor through security.

Needless to say, after getting through that nonsense, I headed straight for the bar and had a drink or five. Soon after, I was herded onto the plane, and proceeded to wait the next 1.5 hours sitting on the damn runway. I'm about 85% positive that Air India took kickbacks to have our takeoff kicked back a few times over. After another rousing 8 hours, I shuffled my way off the plane, and proceeded to explain to the Air India staff that I, an Indian, indeed wanted to get down in Frankfurt and not continue on to Calcutta. Fortunately, customs in Frankfurt consisted of one burly man with 8 jagged teeth and a stamp, and I had no trouble getting through to baggage claim. Finally, on my last ounce of iPod battery, dear Anne ran up and gave me a big hug, and a cartoon picture she drew of me. After recovering from the shock that she had drawn almost exactly what I was wearing, we went to the train station to get the hell out of Frankfurt.

The next few hours were a total blur. I remember a pastry of some sort, and a lot of German. Thanks to Anne's Deutsche Bahn negotiating, we made it to her apartment in Göttingen, almost exactly 24 hours after I left my apartment in Manhattan. After dealing with my wine soaked clothes and shoes (a bottle exploded in my suitcase, brilliant), we spent the next two days wandering around the town and hanging out with her friends, which included Sarah, resident traveler, and Fabulous. Oh Fabulous, better known as Fabian to his friends and family, but given his flamboyant awesomeness, will forever be fabulous in my head.

Highlights of the two days were largely provided by Fabulous, who, among his many talents, knows every damn detail of Göttingen, including the origins of its older-than-the-USA library. Since Fabulous is more comfortable speaking in French than English, he gave me, Anne, and Sarah a fabulous French tour of the place. While there, I managed to set the elevator alarm off, cover my jeans in dust, be informed that all of the library's collection of anything in the English language was entirely British, and use the bathroom twice. Ah, the perils of good literature!

Fabulous also joined Anne's Göttingen crew for drinks the second night we were there. Somehow, the conversation turned to fashion, and at one point, the three girls were stumped trying to figure out the English word for a German expression. I recognized "Schuhe," which, duh, means shoe, but had no idea what they were trying to say. Thankfully, Fabulous, in all his fabulous fabulousness, stared dreamily into the sky, and in a very emasculating (yet deep) voice, screamed, "HIGH HEELS!" Willkommen nach Göttingen.

Apparently, my sense of German geography is terrible, because I positively thought my entire week would be spent in the central part of the country. When Anne started talking about the ports of our next destination, Hamburg, I became rather confused until I used her computer to Google the city, and found out that Hamburg is about as freaking north as you can get in Germany. Oops. Whatever.

So after a 4 hour trip on the train, we found our way to a hostel in the city, and out on the streets of Hamburg soon after. We ate a nice lunch, and met up with Anne's friend Simon. Simon's fortes include playing guitar, buying ice cream, and smiling in lieu of speaking English. While Simon and Anne caught up about friends from school, the moon, HIGH HEELS, and marshmallows (I don't speak German, I have no freaking idea what they were talking about), I fell asleep on a park bench for a quick nap.

That night, we met up with Anne's friend Johanna, who had lived in Hamburg for 5 years. Our tour included the red light district, the best worst bar ever, a bar composed of couches and gold paint, and a small dance spot. In the midst of the wannabe EMO DJ's hip-hop mix, we met two guys from the Netherlands who bucked a fundamental stereotype of North Europeans. As it turns out, some of them suck at speaking English. Two hours of unsuccessful attempts at conversation, a few beers, and some decent dancing, we caught a cab back to the hostel, and got back up a few hours later to hit destination three: Wolfenbuttel.

For those of you not in the know, and I imagine that's 99% of living human beings, Wolfenbuttel is where the original Jägermeister is manufactured. Though this obvious draw is great, we ended up there because Anne's parent's live in a small suburb of the city. In addition to the tour of the town, we also celebrated Lena, Anne's younger sister's birthday the day after we arrived. We ended up doing most of the celebrating, as she drove us to Anne's friend's house for a few drinks before going out.

Upon entering the the house, I noticed one of the girl's German's accent was quite different than the others. It wasn't until she said the word "basketball," though that this resident Sherlock Holmes figured out the girl is American. Balancing the proportion of native English speakers to German speakers, we soon got a fine mix of Deutglish going until we finally headed out to the bar. Bar one was a permutation of the latest great genius German innovation: a fake beach bar. Mind you, it was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so the "beach" came complete with heat lamps, hot tea, and thick jackets. But, I played in, and ordered the biggest long island iced tea in the history of the world. Thankfully, Senegal has turned me off of any real desire to drink, so I stayed perfectly sober as we headed to destination two: the most oddly placed euro club in the world.

If you talk to any 20 year-old in the States, especially ones who have studied abroad, you'll inevitably be forced to talk about the stupidity of American drinking laws. I wholeheartedly backed this argument. Then I turned 21. It turns out that American drinking laws have a great side effect: it keeps incredibly young people out of the bars and clubs I want to go. Ergo, when we pulled up this this randomly placed euro club in Wolfenbuttel, I immediately smelled the stench of teenagers. They have a strong odor, you see. Regardless, we all had a nice time dancing to fine songs such as "Sexy Bitch," and headed back to Anne's parent's house at a decent hour for any night.

On to destination 4: Frankfurt. Yes, dear friends, Frankfurt is indeed more than an airport. It is also a small city. Granted, I caught the city on a good weekend, as there was a giant museum fair going on all weekend. My personal highlight was recognizing Senegalese music at one of the stands, and talking to a woman who turned out to be from the Gambia. But I must say that as a brown person, being in Frankfurt was a breathe of fresh air as there are more than three shades of people (white, really white, Scandinavian white).

Anne's boyfriend, Martin, has lived in Frankfurt for the past year, so we stayed at his apartment. Due to an air mattress debacle, my first night of sleep was less than perfect, but he was cool enough to get me a bike for the two days, so the three of us spent the time biking around the city. I hadn't been on a bike since my days in Lyon, which showed at first, but my bike was affectionately named "Beast," and as we got to know each other, Beast became more flexible. During the three days, we (not including Beast) had a fine selection of Frankfurt's food, all of which was more or less tasteless. We also walked around an oddly placed Chinese garden, of which I took a few pictures to confuse friends. ("Bet you can't name where this is!") 40 hours after getting to Frankfurt, it was time to come home to New York.

Of course, Air India still wouldn't let me check in online, so I got up around 5:30 AM to get ready to go to the airport. Anne came with me to the metro station, and we walked up to the platform to say our goodbyes. A nice hug, hint of a tear, saw the train coming, train stopped, train door closed, I was not on the train. Shit. So we waited for the next train, another nice hug, this time with one foot on the train, and I boarded and waved to my friend running along side on the platform. Aw, sweet. Sappy moment, sorry.

Anyway, long story a little shorter, 6 hours after I landed in New York, I had my first class of the semester. I walked into the American building, to see the American professor...speaking German. WTF. Warp trip. Turns out the American professor speaks German, simple explanation to a well rested mind. To me, slight panic. Especially since that professor is one of the three shades of white. Two hours after slight panic, I walked out the classroom door, saw friends I hadn't seen since May, and had a fabulous (I love that word) Mexican dinner. Life is gut.